Pet-Peeve Vigilante

I have a feeling that this blog may not be particularly popular with animal lovers, but I have a “pet-peeve”. Now I have nothing against pets–in fact I had a dog for 13 years who even traveled with me from Israel to the US and spent his last couple years here with me. Right now we have Vanilla the guinea pig–her partner Mocha (an Abyssinian guinea pig succumbed to illness a couple years back).

But I am angry, and my confidence is shaken. Two days in a row I’ve been chased by dogs when out on my daily walks. Now this is not generally a common occurrence–in fact the vast majority of canine owners keep their pets on a leash outdoors, or at least have them close enough or well enough trained not to bother passersby.

But I have a history of being chased by dogs. As a youth, I ran marathons and at that time dog owners did not have a high level of awareness about keeping the dogs under control. Since I lived in a city (although I am somewhat leery of calling Winnipeg a city), inevitably I ended up interacting with the canine world. I was bitten, chased, harassed, barked at, and scratched. One time, when a particularly large canine individual came at me in attack mode, I actually climbed up on the hood and roof of a parked car–much to the chagrin of the angry owner. But I was able to outrun him as well.

In my neighborhood, we did have a dog owner on our street whose dog would wander around and sometimes act threateningly towards our children. The same dog, often loose in his own front yard, tried to bite me once en route to my path and got a mouthful of keys. That was enough for me, and since the owner showed neither remorse nor attempted to display greater responsibility, I called the “pound” and was told that someone would have a talk with the owner. This, along with the inherent threat of having the dog impounded seemed to work, as the dog has never been observed on the loose since.

On Friday afternoon, returning through my neighborhood and climbing uphill after a 10 km walk, as I minded my own business on the sidewalk and listened to the calming tunes of Simon and Garfunkel on my iPod, I looked up to see two dogs racing towards me. One was coming right at me, while the other one–clever in his evilness–was seeking to outflank me from the side. I could feel the immediate adrenaline–the flight or fight response as I quickly realized there was nowhere to go, and that I would be unable to outrun this pair at near exhaustion after my walk in the heat. There were no rocks nearby, no sticks or tree branches–I was in a defenseless desert.

With no choice, I steeled myself for impact and readied myself to try and kick my way out. Suddenly, a couple appeared at the entrance of one of the houses down the street and must’ve shouted to the dogs. I could hear nothing except “The Boxer” directly in my ears. Of course I hadn’t even had time to take the speakers off. As abruptly as it started, the dogs veered around and raced back to their masters who quickly ushered them into the house and closed the door, without uttering an apology.

So I thought this was a completely isolated and highly unusual incident when I set out for another walk down a different part of the trail yesterday. On my way back down the linear trail the path took me on an underpass along the Creek. Suddenly, on the trail itself I saw two lone dogs trotting in my direction. Now while they weren’t running at me as I experienced the previous day, I did notice that the lead dog appeared to be a pit bull. Indeed, as the dogs approached, I saw that he had some kind of muzzle apparatus over his mouth–that I wouldn’t have trusted for a second. My strategy this time was to keep moving slowly and not make any sudden movements that might startle these dogs. There were a few nervous seconds, but they passed me and although the second dog made a bit of a wide arc and seemed to show some interest in following me, they eventually turned towards the creek and disappeared.

It could’ve been worse, much worse.

So what do I do now? Do I ignore it and chalk it up to statistics? To rotten luck? Or do I go out and purchase some kind of pepper spray–which hopefully, I would never have to use?

I thought that when I was discharged from the military that I would never have to hold any kind of weapon again. So do I now become some kind of “pet-peeve vigilante?”

Suggestions and recommendations are most welcome; truthfully, I really don’t know what to do.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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15 Responses to Pet-Peeve Vigilante

  1. KristiV says:

    Sorry this has happened to you – really annoying, not to mention frightening. I would advise against the pepper spray, or anything else that might irritate or provoke the dog. When I kept my horses at an equestrian facility on the northeast side of town, I used to go for a run around the polo fields, and then change clothes and work my horses by riding around the track, or playing “stick and ball” on one of the polo fields (I weighed a lot less then too, which should Tell Me Something). It’s common practice for polo grooms and trainers to exercise horses daily by riding one and leading (“ponying”) two to six others (most I could ever manage was to ride one and pony two horses). Anyway, two of the grooms who worked for one of the wealthy polo players had a medium-sized dog that made a beeline for me every time I was out running. They would call it, from horseback, but it was hell-bent on chasing me and snapping at my legs. It bit the backs of my shoes several times. I didn’t want to get the grooms in trouble, so I sought advice at the feed store, font of rural pet and livestock knowledge. They advised against pepper spray or sticks or provocations of any sort, and told me to stop running immediately, and stand my ground. Say “Bad dog! Bad! Go away! Go home!”, in both English and Spanish (the latter may not be necessary where you live). This strategy seemed to work moderately well, and it has worked several times when I’ve encountered loose dogs while walking my own (on a leash, of course).

    Eventually, the grooms’ boss happened to be riding one of his horses when the dog made its usual beeline for me, and thereafter the dog was confined to his barn, whenever the grooms were out on the track exercising horses. That’s the best solution, but you may not get so lucky.

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    Thanks, Kristi. You probably don’t have to work too hard to convince me against buying pepper spray–something that I’m really keen to avoid both at the conceptual and practical levels.

    The “stand-your-ground” approach IS often successful, but I’m not sure how well it fares with pit bull or aggressive-types dogs. At the same time, those are the very dogs who probably wouldn’t be affected much by pepper spray anyway.

    So I guess it’s back to square one…

  3. MGG says:

    I agree with Kristi’s advice.
    Try to stay as calm as you can, and NEVER run. If you run, the animal will think it has to chase you down. I have been told (and I believe) that animals can ‘smell’ your nervousness and that makes them nervous too. You could try avoiding direct eye contact if the animal starts being menacing and yell “go away”, but keep as non-threatening a body posture as you can. Otherwise, if you stop and look the other way, or show a sudden interest on your shoe or grass or something on the road and stop, the dogs will pass you by without bothering you.

  4. Steve Caplan says:

    I would respectfully and unbittenly disagree with the “Never run” advice. I have managed in the past to outrun dogs a number of times- running is certainly useful if one is within a short distance of a tree that can be climbed, a fence, or as I described, a parked car (then you need to beware of the owner).

    This aside, Kristi is probably correct on the whole.

    • MGG says:

      You have been very lucky is all I can say for being ‘unbitten’.
      Running is definitely a bad idea, though it very hard to control the urge to run when you have a menacing dog (or 2) running towards you.That is why stopping and turning to your side, and looking down at your shoe will tell the dog that you don’t want anything to do with it and that you are not threatened by it and it shouldn’t feel threatened by you.
      Looking away will also help you become calmer. You have to act braver than you feel.

  5. KristiV says:

    For most of my jogging/walking routes here, there are no trees large enough to climb or fences suitable for scaling, so running from dogs will just get you chased. In my current neighborhood, the most aggressive dogs are two German shepherds that belong to an obese middle-aged man with a peen complex, judging from his penchant (peenchant?) for ridiculously juvenile muscle cars, and his pastime of watering his lawn with a high-powered hose, from the comfort of a lounge chair. Locally, the dog breed most likely to try to chase and to be aggressive is a Chihuahua, but that might be because there are a lot of Chihuahuas here. There are also a lot of pit bulls and pit bull mixes, but I’ve never been chased by one – in fact, the “Go away!” strategy has worked quite well in the few cases that one has approached me. If I’d had my Labbie or the Poms with me, it might have been a different matter though. A few months ago, there was a pit bull running around in my front yard – it came right up to me, wagging its tail, so I checked its tags and called the owner on my cell phone, who came by in his truck and picked up the dog immediately.

  6. cromercrox says:

    Kristi is right – never, ever run. Dogs will always, always, take this is a cue for chasing you, whether they want to rip you limb from limb and use your intestines as sausages, or just lick you to death.

    Maybe it’s your body odor – no, nothing strong enough to be perceptible to humans, but maybe to dogs you radiate the smell of fear. As for me, I seem to have an odor that dogs love. Dogs – including one German Shepherd I met attached to a police dog handler – just come up to me, stare at me with their great big doggy eyes, and sigh deeply. The result is that I am completely unafraid of dogs.

    Of course, what with you and me belonging to The Tribe, you could always get rabbinic sanction to stone the offending pooch to death.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      The ultra-orthodox have always had a fantastic fear of all species (especially Homo secularis!). I recall bringing a cage of mice down in the elevator at the Medical Center in Jerusalem, with a few black-suited men on board. One of them cautiously looked into the cage and said “Ahh, Shefanim” (that’s Hebrew for “hares”, although often confused with rabbits, but not usually with mice!). So much for ultraorthodox zoology courses.

      • cromercrox says:

        Ah, but mice is what you get by feeding hares on experimental kosher food.

        • Steve Caplan says:

          Admittedly, it was a hare-brained scheme.

          • cromercrox says:

            Your Favorite Weekly Etc. once ran a short item on the genetic distinctiveness of Cohens. I wrote the journal’s press releases at the time and a colleague suggested that we headline the press release ‘Breeding Like Rabbis’. I can’t remember if we did or not. I hope so.

  7. chall says:

    Oh Steve, I’m in your corner here (as a fellow “not too keen of loose dogs running towards you”). I second the thing with not running, no pepper spray…. I’ve tried to explain, as late as yesterday while out in a park where dogs are not supposed to be unleashed, that it doesn’t matter if “he’s totally harmless and friendly” since I’m nervous and the dog will pick it up and then a situation can turn weird very fast. The owner yesterday just snarked and walked past me with his 3 pit bull and german shepards….

    I’ve become better though, as in looking away, breathing steadily and trying to ignore the dogs completely. I can never remember if you’re supposed to stare at dogs or cats, but I seem to remember that it works for one and the other one takes it as a challenge? I do know though, that if you start behaving as if you are afraid of them, they’ll go right at you…. (attacked once as a child).

    Funny to my friends, I’m not scared of horses or other animals apart from dogs (some cats) and maybe spriders (the latter just because they are poisonous here)…. but I’m getting better at not have heart racing and running away…. Looking forward reading what other suggestions there will be here

    • Steve Caplan says:


      The irony is that I’m generally not afraid of dogs and like them–and they usually like me.

      As for “what to do”–perhaps the issue is complicated by the 2 different situations I described: in the 1st, with 2 large and aggressive looking dogs charging at me directly full speed–running was not an option. There was not even a parked car to climb on that was close enough to take refuge. At the same time, being disinterested and avoiding eye contact wasn’t going to cut it while these beasts ripped my legs (or worse) apart. In this case, I was saved at the last minute by the owners, but my only option (which I started to prepare for) was to shout at the dogs (as Kristi advised), and if necessary (and believe me, it would have been!) to try and kick to keep my flesh out of their fangs. I’ve had this many years before as a youth.

      In the second scenario, with dogs not necessarily in attack mode, but moseying along in one’s direction, I agree that calm disinterest is probably the best option. Certainly not running.

      • chall says:

        Steve, if they were charging me like in the example, well…. I guess I’ll hope I can kick them with my mad kickboxing skillz (hm) without getting too hurt. Granted, I know what I have been known to do in other threatening situations (close eyes, breathe and pretend to be an ostrich 😉 If I can’t see them, they don’t exist. that’s righ huh?! )\

        Surprisingly, to me at least, it’s not increased any harm so far… I hope you can avoid these loose running dogs attacking you though. It sure sounds both stressful and bad in general!

        • Steve Caplan says:

          I’m hoping that statistics are on my side– several years with no trouble, until 2 days in a row…

          On the lighter side, I just received a spam comment from someone who knows what the problem is–the dogs sense my–oh never mind…

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